Laugh Easily – A New Life Goal?

A few weeks ago we went out for supper as a family. We haven’t done this very often since March of 2020. It felt “normal” (whatever “normal” looks like these days) and was an especially fun treat on a random Wednesday night.

When we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, John and Abby were talking about an inside joke song they had created about Abby’s new hamster, Meatball. It was nonsensical and hilarious. As I sat listening to them sing – with gusto, I might add – I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. A deep belly laugh.

After I finally finished laughing, I thought – wow, it feels so good to laugh.

Wouldn’t this be a great life goal – to be someone who laughs easily? (At appropriate times, of course; I understand laughter at the wrong time can be devastatingly hurtful!). Sure I can smile when I hear a funny story or silly lyrics. But why not take things one step further and muster up a laugh? It almost always feels extra therapeutic.

Your turn. Do you laugh easily? If so, do you have a go-to source of laughs (maybe a favourite sitcom, comedian, or family member)? Nate Bargatze is our favourite comedian and I also happen to be married to an extremely funny person who goes out of his way to make me laugh every day <3

Header photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Six Things on Saturday

Our first round of overnight company (my brother, his wife + my parents) pulled out of the driveway 30 minutes ago. The laundry machine is humming, the kids – weary from adventures – have embraced screen time, and I’m heaving a contented sigh. The week had some ups and downs; this seems to be the drumbeat of my summer experience. But it was net positive for everyone, and there is a sense of both relief and satisfaction to have reached the end.

I’m always amazed how quickly we dismantle things after company leaves. The house – and life – can feel so chaotic and then, in a matter of several hours, sheets are washed, beds are remade, and everything seems so ordinary again (until this time next week when we have another, larger, group of family visiting!).

I was going to recap our week in one post, but think I’ll spread things out over a few “staycation” recaps.

Until then, here are six things happening in life right now.

ONE | I’m officially registered for a 5K. This was one of my goals for 2022 and it will be my first timed race, so it feels doubly satisfying. I debated doing a 10K, but know without any training I can easily complete a 5K course, so that seemed like the optimal choice. The Valley Harvest Marathon is a weekend-long event in October based out of our hometown (it’s a Boston qualifier, though I’m not aiming for that!). It has a large assortment of races – from fun runs for kids all the way up to ultramarathons. I can literally walk from our house to the starting line and I’m excited. (Special thanks to John for sorting out registration while I was off adventuring with family).

TWO | Our new gutters are installed. This may not seem noteworthy, but it is yet another thing to check off in our home renovation saga. You might recall I mentioned a 30-minute discussion – outside in frigid conditions – about how to configure one of the downspouts. We had to make decisions months ago, before all the pieces of the renovation puzzle were fully sorted. Turns out, after all that effort, my decision was incorrect. Thankfully, the workaround was a minor inconvenience. Feeling excited about how gutters turned out definitely falls under the category of Adult Things I Never Anticipated Caring About.

I can’t get enough of the hair – so blond by the end of the summer.

THREE | We live in such a beautiful part of the world. I’ll delve into this more thoroughly in those staycation recaps, but the fact that the views above are all five, fifteen, or fifty minutes away from our home is pretty incredible.

FOUR | We celebrated my parents 50th wedding anniversary this week. The celebration was small – just our little family unit – but my Mom consistently teared up while she was looking through the photobook of well-wishes and pictures we compiled. I prepared some of their favourite foods. She spent a chunk of their anniversary at the ocean – her happy spot. My parents are still very much in love and while the event was understated, it still felt special.

FIVE | I have started (slowly) reading again and I Miss You When I Blink stopped me in my tracks. After a few months that have had some tough emotional hurdles, I could swear Mary Laura Philpott was writing directly to/about me? I flagged so many sections of this book. (I’m reading Bomb Shelter right now, and it feels much less relatable for me. Still, though, I think she is a masterful essayist. How I love essays!) The downside to reading again? I’m staying up way too late…

SIX | It’s less than a month until school starts. Abby school supplies have been purchased (thanks to John for spearheading this!), and we have plans for most of the remaining weeks of summer vacation. I’m not wishing the time away…but I also sort of am. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for the fresh start of a new school year. Since I work at a university, September also marks a big uptick in my work responsibilities. It feels good to be scheduling in meetings, sketching out deadlines, and engaging with students again.

I’m off to do another load of laundry, fit in a walk with my bestie and maybe savour another cup of coffee.

How was your week? Does anyone else have upcoming races or kids headed back to school? Does anyone else crave the routine September brings as much as I do?

Frost Family Roadtrip Days 1-4: Wolfville – Toronto

Part of me wants to jump right in with the “good” stuff and start documenting all the adventures we had in Toronto and New York City. But, if I’m preaching the importance of celebrating the ordinary moments of life, I’d be remiss if I didn’t reflect on the journeying part, too.

And, since we drove to each destination, time spent together in the car was a major part of our family vacation!

I’ve already mentioned this trip was a mixed bag of experiences; lots of smiles and excitement but also tears – including my own – and plenty of frustration. We learned that traveling with kids is very, very different from traveling without kids (especially in a city). We also learned that our kids aren’t overly enthused with cities. But, thankfully, when we reflect on the trip as a whole, it was a net positive for our family.

And when it comes to the roadtripping part of the experience, our kids deserve gold stars across the board.

Yesterday I admitted to falling into the trap of focusing on challenging behaviours, but I’m here to give some major credit where it is due. Our kids are phenomenal at car travel.

Of the ~48 hours we spent in the car together, here is an approximation of their activity breakdown:

  • 30% of their time was spent listening to music/audiobooks/podcasts (I made a playlist of our favourite upbeat songs – mostly Imagine Dragons and Avicci).
  • 30% of their time was spent talking. We’d discuss what we were going to do next/what we had already done. We played word games. And, keeping it real, a portion of this 30% involved the kids fighting with each other.
  • 20% of their time was spent watching videos. Frankly, I would have been fine with them watching more than they did, but they didn’t want to so I didn’t complain!
  • 10-15% of their time was spent eating/snacking.
  • 5-10% of their time was spent napping.

Nova Scotia – New Brunswick (DAys 1-2)

We pulled the kids out of the final 1.5 weeks of school. They didn’t miss much academically, and we wanted to avoid the summer tourist rush in Toronto (Canadian public schools were still in session) and NYC (around July 4th).

Outside school, ready to head off on our big adventure!

We collected the kids from school about 30 minutes early on a Friday (to avoid pickup lines) and headed to my parents’ home in New Brunswick. It’s almost exactly 4 hours away, and we made it without a single bathroom break. The kids ate some snacks, watched a few videos, listened to some music, one child napped…and then we were there!

It rained en route and, upon arrival, we discovered our trunk had sprung some sort of (small) leak. Sigh. We identified the issue quickly, but it required us to dry a number of pieces of luggage, including our American cash which had gotten damp.

We spent two nights with my parents, so the kids had all day Saturday at the lake. It is a happy space for them. Levi, in particular, loves the easy access to nature. He fished from shore, went hunting for frogs, and just generally enjoyed time outside. Abby did some crafting and played games with my Mom. At one point Levi braved the chilly waters for a quick swim.

Saturday morning John and I ran together – my best run of the season!

New brunswick – Kingston, ON (Day 3)

We were on the road by 4:40 am local time. John had made (and frozen!) breakfast sandwiches before we left home. Sunday morning we microwaved these and wrapped them in tinfoil for a roadtrip breakfast. They were delicious. We brought a giant tote of non-perishable food from home, had a cooler with ice and some sandwich-making materials, as well as a day bag of food we kept in the car. Eating in the car saved so much money (and time)!

We stopped twice on the 11.5-hour drive for the bathroom (we gassed up the car on one of these stops), and that was it. The kids ate breakfast, lunch, and a few snacks in the car. They watched 2-3 hours of videos (we downloaded some Netflix show episodes on an old Android phone they propped up between them + John had a few movies on his iPad), we listened to music for several hours, and then the rest of the time we talked.

Because of scheduling, we were only in Kingston for 24 hours. We fit in a trip to a local park Sunday evening, spent time with John’s parents, and met up with extended family at a water park on Monday. Many moments of this time were wonderful, but I was exhausted from the travel (it rained and the trunk leaked again en route to Ontaro) and the kids were…rowdy. They were in a bouncing-off-the-walls mood after being cooped up, and it just wasn’t an appropriate time/place to be bouncing-off-the-walls which made for some less-than-ideal moments. It’s also hard to navigate being in a new space, and since we were only staying one night, there were all the logistical hassles of packing/unpacking which I found stressful. That said, we did have lots of enjoyable moments and the kids loved their time spent with young cousins.

(Oh and John and I fit in another run together – ironically, my worst of the year!)

kingston – toronto (Day 4)

We left right from the family picnic and headed to Toronto. My brother-in-law has a condo in the city that served as home base for almost a week. Traffic was a non-issue and we were all happy to arrive earlier than expected (Levi napped a chunk of the drive).

The condo was in a great location. While it’s a one-bedroom, it comes with a small “den” that is exactly large enough to hold two twin air mattresses, which is where the kids ended up!

My brother-in-law was outside to meet us and helped us get situated with underground parking. Once everyone was quasi-settled, we walked to nearby Earl Bales Park. It’s a huge park – 127 acres – and actually has its own ski hill. It was a great way to unwind after a busy day. The sun was setting and the temperature was perfect. The kids absolutely loved the playground and I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to return on a subsequent day. In addition to a ski hill and other playgrounds, the park also boasts a sensory garden, a splash pad, an outdoor amphitheatre, paved walking/cycling trails, picnic sites and fire pits.

It was nice to unpack and settle in (we did leave the condo for several nights, but it was our central location for the week). I found changing hotels/sleeping locations to be a nuisance as each change required a lot of time packing/repacking luggage which felt very inefficient (especially since I was juggling my things + overseeing the kids stuff as well). Settling in for consecutive days felt luxurious.

Next up: Adventures in Toronto!

Header photo by Jack Ward on Unsplash

Family Sayings + Recent Vacation Mantras

Long-time readers may recall how much I love quotes. I collect them from a variety of sources and am always on the lookout for new inspiration (last week: a sidewalk plaque outside the NY Public Library + on a wall at the American Museum of Natural History). While formal quotes from famous authors or philosophers are wonderful, I find it equally fascinating to hear what sayings work their way into individual family cultures.

Let’s start with a walk down memory lane…

family sayings from my childhood

So near, but yet so far. I use this one with my kids regularly and it gives me warm fuzzies every time as this line originated with my maternal grandmother. She was particularly fond of saying this when someone narrowly missed a shot in Crokinole. She and my brother would organize weekend-long Crokinole tournaments whenever they were together, and she had cause to say So near but yet so far regularly during those epic events.

It builds character. My father would say this about everything. Wet sneakers on a hike in the rain? It builds character. Shoveling the walkways after a big snowstorm? It builds character. Let’s just say, by my Dad’s reckoning at least, I should have a lot of character.

Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you. My parents had high expectations for their kids, but they never demanded perfection. If I got a test back with a less-than-stellar grade, it would be met with a simple: Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you.

Obey. In modern contexts, I suppose Mom and Dad were relatively strict disciplinarians, but as Baby #4 it never really felt that way. There was an established structure for discipline but, beyond that, we actually had quite of bit of freedom. I spent lots of my childhood roaming, didn’t have enormous chore lists, and they never grounded us. We were taught to respect our elders and do our best but there was a fair amount of leeway in many regards. But if Mom made a request or gave a command, she meant it. If we put up resistance, she would reply in a steady, calm – but unmistakeably “Don’t Mess With Me” tone – Obey. If we made it to the point she just said Obey, we knew she meant business. No lecture or dithering or arguments or repeatedly asking us to do something. She’d just say: Obey.

Immediately or sooner. I had forgotten all about this line, but Mom recently brought it up and I couldn’t believe I didn’t remember my parents saying this! When do you want me to set the table for supper? Immediately or sooner. When do the cookies need to go into the oven? Immediately or sooner.

frost family sayings

And then you grow up and leave childhood homes; old routines and habits make way for new, blended family cultures, including a curated selection of go-to family sayings. The kids would likely be better sources for this information, but here are a handful that are in regular rotation in our house.

You can do hard things. We say this to the kids a lot. We don’t try to downplay that certain things are hard or unpleasant, but do want to affirm that they can do hard things!

You are a joy and a blessing. I read this line in a book years and years ago and say it to the kids regularly, especially at bedtime. I have to admit I don’t always feel this way in every moment of my parenting journey but it’s still always true. They are a joy and they are a blessing.

I have high expectations and I know you can meet them. I’ve started saying this after reading Grit by Angela Duckworth where she mentions an iteration of this line. I do have high expectations but I like to think they’re reasonable. Mostly I’ve been saying this in the context of interpersonal relationships between the kids and/or with their friends. (Eg. I have high expectations of how kind/compassionate you can be to your sibling, and I know you can meet them).

vacation mantras

A few weeks ago, right before we headed out on our road trip, I was visiting with a friend and discussing the upcoming rigors of traveling with family. I told her I thought I needed to adopt some mantras and we talked through them together that very evening.

(A note before I start. Years ago I read Dan Harris’ book called 10% Happier. I have always, always been in awe of this title because I love the realism. The book is never promising a story of absolute change (100% Happiness) or rainbows pooping out puppies. Nope. It’s discussing a 10% increase in happiness. Sometimes tiny improvements can feel too slight to celebrate, but 10% is so much better than 0%.)

I digress on this point because none of the following mantras dramatically changed my outlook on this trip. I knew two weeks on the road, with thousands of kilometers of driving, 100+ kilometers of walking, and extreme changes to our schedule were going to be tough. But I do think these mantras made things at least 10% happier/easier. And that’s a win in my books.

  • It costs what it costs. I have a very hard time spending money, especially if it seems at all frivolous. I shop sales, buy all my clothes (and many other items) secondhand, and want to think I’m getting the best deal on just about everything. There are lots of motivators from my past that have led me to this point but, needless to say, vacation can be a tough pill to swallow because of the apparent nonstop “frivolous” spending. Hotels, restaurants, entry fees. When we were debating doing a second Broadway show and I was inwardly balking at the price tag? It costs what it costs. I still hate spending money, but repeating this in my head really does seem to help…a bit.
  • Choose the bigger life. I’ve been chewing on this one for several years (courtesy of the Happier podcast), but it felt especially relevant for this family trip. As an introvert (who doesn’t like to spend money; see above), saying yes to adventure doesn’t always come naturally. But I know that choosing things that might be slightly more uncomfortable in the short term, often makes for the best memories long-term. On our last full night in Toronto, John wanted to see the skyline after dusk. We ended up walking a LONG way to get to a specific view of the city. I was tired and every ounce of me wanted to turn around for home, but I said: Choose the bigger life. And the view was absolutely worth it!

On our way through Canada to the US, we passed within 15 minutes of Niagara Falls. It was a bit of a nuisance to route to the falls and we knew we might have a hassle finding a place to park. We discussed it briefly but, in the context of choosing the bigger life, the answer was obvious. So we went.

  • I can’t keep everybody happy. This one is huge for me. I hate, hate, hate (x 10,000) conflict and really do want everyone (including myself) to be happy at all times. And it’s just not possible. I told myself this a lot on the trip (one child wants to do/eat/see/watch X, while the other wants to do/eat/see/watch Y = only one child is happy). I was frustrated regularly by my lack of control over keeping everyone happy, but repeating this line did help me manage my expectations…slightly.
  • This will feel different tomorrow. This mantra ended up being my favourite, but I didn’t come up with it until partway through the trip. Last Monday was…not so fun. It had some great moments, but I ended the day crying in our hotel room which wasn’t exactly Highlight Reel material. It rained/was hot and muggy all day. My period started. The kids were tired and grumpy. I forgot most Broadway shows don’t run on Mondays, which meant the evening I had originally planned wasn’t going to happen. The kids were underwhelmed/overwhelmed by city life and insisted on fixating on the negative: too many people, too much cigarette smoke, Wolfville is so much better (true on all counts, but it’s New York City! How can you not love this place?). At one point I told myself, This will feel different tomorrow. I didn’t try to spin it into: This was a fully awesome day. But a simple acknowledgment that the events of the day would feel different in retrospect.
Best of friends, mere minutes before the wheels feel off our proverbial roadtrip Happy Train.

Thursday night was another tough evening. Despite a good day of travel, we were all emotionally and physically tired from adventuring. We had a gorgeous lighthouse stop planned and all was going well until someone (who will remain nameless) tickled someone (who will also remain nameless) and that someone did not enjoy being tickled, bumped into a rock as a result of said tickle, and a gigantic meltdown ensued. I was beyond frustrated. Please everyone be happy, I wanted to scream (but kept to a dull yell once we reached the car). While I really should have been repeating Mantra #3 above on repeat, I did not and chose to ugly cry (that time of the month + 42 hours of driving = an emotionally sensitive Mama), but after a hot shower I told myself – and believed – this will feel different tomorrow. And it did.

As part of my evening wind-down, I happened to read Laura Vanderkam’s blog post about a recent family vacation. I appreciated how she starts off a paragraph by saying “we had a good time” and then goes on to document a number of things that went wrong including poor sleep, an ear infection that required a trip to the hospital, and sunburns. But then she wrote something that turned my day around. “My goal…was to have…a few enjoyable moments, and that definitely happened.”

I turned to John triumphantly and said: we had lots of enjoyable moments. If my goal was to have a few – or even lots – of enjoyable moments (instead of wanting to keep everybody happy and have only enjoyable moments which just isn’t reasonable with the dynamics of a young family or the realities of LIFE), then our vacation was an overwhelming success.

So cue my newest vacation/life mantra:

  • My goal is to have at least a few enjoyable moments…

How about you? Any treasured phrases from your childhood, or things you currently say to friends, family or coworkers? Any vacation mantras you’ve been incorporating this year to make things 10% happier?

Whatever you’re doing this long weekend I hope you have many enjoyable moments.

My Father: On Pessimism, Nature, and Me

Around Mother’s Day, I published an essay in honour of my mother. With Father’s Day fast approaching, I thought it only fair I pay tribute to my father in similar fashion.

But what to write?

Dad is a case study in juxtaposition and embodies what I can only describe as “simple complexity”. Take, for instance, his stance on clothing. He believes strongly that dressing well for certain occasions is a critical mark of respect (don’t get him started on people wearing jeans in church), yet he regularly wears clothing held together with duct tape (I’m not joking). He complains about food that has “too much flavour” (curry stays off the menu when he comes to visit), yet he drinks coffee strong enough to strip varnish.

But perhaps his defining characteristic – which serves to highlight the biggest of contradictions in his life – is his inherent pessimism.

Ask anyone to describe my father and the word pessimist is guaranteed to show up in the opening sentence of the conversation. One gets the sense that his pessimism is obligatory – as if it’s the only way he knows how to exist in the world?

The numbers for the weather hotline are worn bare on his phone touchpad. He also, of course, watches the weather each night on the evening news and checks it daily – multiple times – from his laptop. Regardless of the forecast, he finds reason for dread and impending doom. Nothing but sunny skies? The jet stream is sure to shift at the last moment so we’ll get caught at the beach in a downpour. Rain? That’s a forecast that can only get worse – showers are likely to morph into a Category 4 hurricane, with some lightning thrown in for good measure.

I’m exaggerating here, but only slightly.

Another result of his relentless pessimism? He always assumes something will prevent us from arriving on time, and Dad cannot bear to be late. So he leaves early. Very early. For everything. Once, when I was in high school, we were taking friends to a live performance in a nearby city. We left early (obviously) and, without a clear memory of the logistics, I can virtually guarantee I complained about the nuisance of leaving so far in advance.

Less than 20 minutes after leaving home we had a flat tire. “And this,” he said, with unmistakable triumph in his eyes, “Is why we always leave early.

So if I learned the art of letter writing from my mother, I was schooled in the art of pessimism by my father. And he was an excellent teacher.

I like to cast my own tendencies under the umbrella of realism, but it’s thinly-veiled pessimism at best. I do what I can to compensate, but realize it’s part of my nature. (And nurture.) But despite his own pessimism, Dad makes space for two exceptions.

  1. He is in perpetual awe of natural beauty.
  2. He isn’t pessimistic about me.

nature = optimistic about beauty

Maybe a deep appreciation for nature doesn’t seem like the perfect foil to pessimism but, for my father, the link exists.

He prioritizes time in the natural world and, aside from catastrophizing about the weather forecast, seems to check his pessimism at the forest or river “door”. He has been spending most of his spare time outside since he was a toddler; by the time he was a teenager, he spent most weekends alone – hiking local mountains, cooking over a makeshift firepit, and building lean-tos for overnight shelter. He is still happiest in a canoe with a thermos of hot coffee at his feet, keeping a steady eye on the riverbanks for wildlife.

All of my favourite memories with Dad involve time spent outdoors and I am forever grateful that my own children have been able explore the wild with their grandfather – from canoeing and building bonfires on the beach, to our a foray into maple syrup production. How could anyone be pessimistic while tapping maple trees on a sunny day in March? (Well, actually, Dad was – he told us repeatedly we’d never get enough sap to boil down into syrup. We proved him wrong with 250 mL of home-grown syrup.)

Long before I was a parent myself, Dad took me on overnight camping trips where we listened to baseball games on the radio while looking up at the stars. We cooked bacon and eggs on a propane stove and washed dishes in tiny streams. My Dad took me skating on outdoor lakes and cross-country skiing up the mountain road behind our house. Though money for a rural Baptist minister was in short supply, as long as we had enough for a tank of gas and some sandwiches, Dad was always ready for an outdoor adventure. We’d leave early to get there and he’d fret about the weather but, once we arrived, his unique brand of optimism would shine through.

My absolute favourite memory of my father involves our annual pilgrimage to collect boughs. At some point in his life, Dad learned how to make evergreen wreaths. Each November he would bring me along to tromp through the woods filling bags full of fir branches. The smell was incredible and to this day fresh-cut evergreens are one of my favourite scent profiles.

He’d cut off a handful of branches with his yellow-handled tin snips and I’d hold the bag and follow him through the underbrush. Clip, clip, clip – stash. Clip, clip, clip – stash. I don’t remember talking much; my Dad appreciates solitude even more than I do. In those days, I doubt he imagined one day I’d look back on this annual trek with such deep nostalgia. He loved the woods and his daughter and I like to think it was only natural he combine both into a much-loved ritual. (Also, my mother was quite content to stay at home, not being the “woodsy” type – writing letters perhaps? – and my older siblings would have been working, so now that I think of it, I was probably the only person he could recruit as a helper).

The resulting wreaths were beautiful – and enormous – filling a huge part of the front walls of the sanctuary. He’d also make a giant swag for the rear entry, and birch log candle holders for all the windows. The excitement of the Sunday School Christmas Concert would literally keep me up at night. But before the twinkle lights and ribbons and baubles, all the beauty originated with Dad and me in the woods.

my father has faith in me

Here’s another thing Dad taught me about pessimism – you can suspend it. And he’s always done this for me.

Through nature or nurture (likely a combination of both), I tend toward pessimism and self-doubt. Never were these tendencies on finer display than during my first year of university.

I was a wreck. Constantly worried I was falling behind or, worse, on the path toward failure. The latter, as an 18-year-old, felt like an inconceivable embarrassment that would forever ruin my life.

I would call home in tears, completely overwhelmed, and Dad would listen and tell me things were going to be okay. One horrible Saturday my Mom came to visit and worked for hours to teach me basic Chemistry (every time I hear the terms molarity or molality I’m transported back to homecoming weekend of my freshman year working through endless sample problems on the musty-smelling red-carpeted basement floor of the library with Mom).

And then I did fine. Over and over again things turned out just fine. When I failed a few Chemistry labs, literally nothing bad happened. I managed to ace some midterms and, eventually, wound up loving the class.

At the end of it all – in a pattern that was repeated over and over again – my Dad would simply say: “I knew you’d do well.

Not in a “Why were you even worried?” way. More as if from one pessimist to another, he was giving me permission: “Go ahead and worry if it helps, but I wasn’t worried. I kept the faith in your ability when you lost yours.

Even now, with no grades to share, I know that he expects the best from and for me. He gives me the benefit of the doubt and encourages me when I reach out with my own pessimistic thoughts.

This Father’s Day I could tell you how my Dad taught me to paddle a canoe or whittle a stick for roasting marshmallows. But here’s a truth that’s likely less conventional: he also taught me a lot about pessimism. I don’t worry (much) about the weather and I’m rarely early for anything. But I am unmistakably a pessimist. I try to intentionally resist – and for good reason, as pessimism brings a lot of unnecessary suffering into my life. But it’s also a link to my father. A father who modeled pessimism, but also taught me how to appreciate the smell of fir trees, encouraged me to lace up hiking boots to go explore a trail in the woods, and taught me to have faith in others when they might be losing it in themselves.

Happy Father’s, Dad. Thanks for taking me on all those adventures. And I forgive you for always making us leave home so early.

And Happy Father’s Day to my wonderful husband and father-extraordinaire, John, who continually teaches me about the joys of optimistic living.

Casual Friday + A Week of Mondays

At times over the last 7 days, it felt like I was living through a week of Mondays.

Garfield says it best…

But let’s start off with some excellent news: the kitchen plumbing has been fixed and it has been wonderful to hear the dishwasher whirring or to hand-wash dishes in the sink and have all the water disappear when I pull the plug.

The plumbing success capped off a wonderful end to last week – an intense but productive string of work events, beautiful sunshine, and a fun adventure with friends on Friday evening (see below).

The bad news? After the highs of Friday, the next few days felt like repeated thudding along at ground level.

Levi came down with a bug over the weekend – some congestion and coughing. Rapid tests keep coming back negative (for every family member) so, thankfully, this appears to be “only a cold” but we have negative testing requirements for some upcoming travel; the last minute chance of plans being completely upended by the virus is an ever-present reality in this new pandemic world that leaves me with a general sense of unease.

Levi was easy to entertain while home from school – he was energetic and in a great mood (the best kind of “sick”). He skunked me in so many games of Sorry it’s depressing (and I was trying very hard to win). But it also meant the days lacked structure and left me feeling… restless.

And then there was The Big Banking Kerfuffle. We did what, many times in the past, has been a fairly routine banking procedure to maximize a bonus interest promotion. When we got to the end of the process, we received an error message which told us to try again. So we resubmitted the form – successfully this time – and printed off the reference number. And then we received two e-mail confirmations. As in, despite the error, the original transfer had happened. Cue phone calls – lots of them – to solve the issue. We were reassured Worst Case Scenario wouldn’t happen. Multiple times. By multiple different bank representatives. And then Worst Case Scenario did happen…which caused layers and layers of headaches and more phone calls. It was decidedly unpleasant. Eventually, two trips to the bank and various account contortions temporarily solved the issue, but it still isn’t fully resolved. The whole thing is figureoutable…but it also really sucked.

The next round of renovations, which keep getting delayed, are tentatively set to take place while we’re away on a short family vacation. Part of me is relieved, as being around during renovations is my idea of a living nightmare. But, another part of me is very anxious. There are hundreds of little decisions that have to be made on the fly and while I hate making said decisions, I also don’t like to think of them being made without me. We have done everything we can to prepare in advance. But it still feels unsettling to the control-freak-stress-about-everything side of my personality.

Okay – enough with the complaining. Nothing remotely “bad” happened this week and we’re fine. Just sometimes life feels decidedly unfun and this whole being-a-grownup thing can seem very overrated. Know what I mean?

READING | After a string of sub-par books, I’ve had a set of relatively good reads over the last few weeks (no 5/5 books, but most fell into the 4/5 range).

I’ve been called melancholic by friends and naturally tend toward what Cain describes as a bittersweet temperament. I love how she captures my feelings about beautiful and joyous things feeling tinged with, well, melancholy – not out of sorrow, but a loving ache or longing.

In fact, you could say that what orients a person to the bittersweet is a heightened awareness of finality. Children splashing joyfully in puddles bring tears to grandparents’ eyes because they know that one day the children will grow up and grow old (and they won’t be there to see it). But those aren’t tears of sorrow, exactly; at heart, they’re tears of love. (Bittersweet)

I read two “anti-diet” books. They exist on a spectrum of intuitive eating, but even eschew that term/movement as being too restrictive. I’m not going to unpack things further here, but both of these books are interesting reads if you’ve struggled with food, weight, and body image.

I have lived my entire life believing (and I still live in a culture that believes) that the only way I would be able to accept my body would be, ironically, to change it. (Project Body Love)

I am not anti-goals. I’ve got goals. But I am anti-expecting-external-goals-to-actually-make-you-happy. That raise will not solve all of your problems at work. Falling in love does not erase self-doubt or feelings of loneliness…We have to look at what we are really searching for underneath the goal. If what you’re really seeking from weight loss is more kindness to yourself and a cute new shirt…you need to be willing to give those things to yourself now…The way you seek out a goal is the state you will still be in once you get there. (The F*ck It Diet, emphasis mine)

While All We Want fell a bit flat for me (didn’t love the structure or writing style), I can’t stop thinking about the issues it raised surrounding consumerism and wellbeing/happiness. It left me feeling very sad about how we humans care for this earth God created. I also thought a lot about hypocrisy; I mentioned reading a book recently where the author discussed – at length – her disdain for single-use cups (even approaching strangers at cafes to berate them) but then hops on an airplane to reach various hiking destinations. Last weekend I caught up on some blog posts from an “influencer” I used to read years ago (before she started “influencing”). Her content has become more and more sponsored/tailored for SEO, but she talks at length about eating “cleanly” and using only “clean” products for personal care and home maintenance. But then she mentioned ordering a huge number of clothes online, expressly highlighting her plan to “just return whatever doesn’t work” which necessitates generation of additional fossil fuels and other forms of waste. Even people that claim to be focused on prioritizing the planet (e.g. clean products, eat-local) only seem to (in most cases) take things as far as it works for their lifestyle and brand. And I don’t necessarily take offense to this UNLESS they go out of their way to discuss how much they prioritize environmental causes. They’re environmentally conscious… when it’s convenient. End rant. (To be fair I do this same thing in various areas in my own life; I have no right to cast stones in this argument, it’s just something that has been nagging at me lately.)

The book didn’t necessarily help me process any of the above, but left me thinking about all related issues from various perspectives.

A shattered bedroom window, a lost wedding ring, even a scuffed sneaker can make us feel vulnerable because our self-hood partly resides in what we claim as our own…[Corporations] encourage this intimacy between ourselves and our things. They encourage us to pour some part of ourselves into each possession: if those possessions are lost, we are prompted to feel “a sense of shrinkage of our personality, a partial conversion of ourselves to nothingness.” Perhaps each of these miniature losses is an intimation of that greater loss – our death, when we lose our most valuable treasure, the body. Perhaps it hurts so much to lose a coffee mug, a book, a toy, because it reminds us that nothing material is everlasting and we will one day forfeit even our flesh and bone. (All We Want)

This quote raises some interesting points; as it relates to my faith, I would take it one step further with the following verses in Matthew 6: 19-20. 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The Stanley Tucci book was both hilarious (I laughed out loud a lot) and heartbreaking. I considered this book in a new light knowing that reader Katie works with his father-in-law and has met Stanley Tucci (Tucci is now married to Felicity Blunt, sister of Emily Blunt – who is wife to John Krasinski, aka Jim Halpert). How cool!

But perhaps the most precious heirlooms are family recipes. Like a physical heirloom, they remind us from whom and where we came and give others, in a bite, the story of another people from another place and another time. (Taste)

I didn’t love Island of the Blue Dolphins. I know this is a revered classic, but I found it sad and…tedious compared to, say, The Swiss Family Robinson which I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. But perhaps that’s because I came to this book late in life; I know someone who adores this book but has a deep sentimental attachment to it from her youth.

“In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?” His voice dropped to a whisper. “But here’s the secret: in between, we need others as well.” (Tuesday’s with Morrie)

Picture books have not been stellar lately but we checked out Snowflake Bentley…again. We’ve been reading this book for years and it is one of my favourite picture books of all time. I love the re-telling of this true (albeit heartbreaking) story.

WATCHING+ENJOYING | Meltdown (a Netflix docuseries about the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island). Julia (the HBO dramatized series about Julia Child). And we just finished Masterpiece’s All Creatures Great and Small (fans of the Harry Potter movies, actor Matthew Lewis – who plays Neville Longbottom – is in this series). The latter was…simple, heartwarming and entertaining.

JOYFINDING | The cardinal right outside the window as I type this. I’m not sure why we’ve seen a sudden uptick in these beautiful red birds (climate change?), but they are lovely.

The playdoh creations the kids made one afternoon for over an hour. Together. No fighting. It was amazing.

The Arts for Kids hub projects the kids made one afternoon for over an hour. With new oil pastels they had to share. No fighting. It was miraculous.

Family walks; especially the stretch where Levi and I did mental math for 25 minutes per his request.

I won’t tell you how many Keto Mug Cakes (this recipe) I made during the week. Okay, I’ll tell you. I made one every single day and they were delicious (topped with a spoonful – or two – of peanut butter which melts into a pool of liquid peanut butter gold).

EXERCISE | Daily walks. I only ran once this week – Levi was home from school multiple days and all the hassles of being a grownup sapped my energy. But, John and I managed to fit in one long run together yesterday and it was great! Years ago, when I was running more regularly, I had a favourite route which was 8.34 km (how’s that for specific; I’m sure the distance varied slightly, but this is the number that stuck in mind). My goal this year was to work up to running that same route. Check.

THRIFTING | A pair of sneakers at a local consignment store. In like-new condition; $25 – $12 credit (from clothes I’ve consigned) = $15 (taxes included) for new sneakers!

ADVENTURING | Last Thursday, about an hour after we’d returned from visiting an abandoned textile factory and old railway cars, and about 5 hours after we’d returned from our long hike to Cape Split, a friend texted to see if our family was up for a “playdate” after she finished work on Friday.

I knew Friday was going to be nuts at work, and it had already been a busy week (what with all the water pouring out onto the kitchen floor). I waffled, wanting to say no but also remembering this friend, and her husband, are some of the best adventurers we know.

So we said yes. And she suggested Medford Beach.

Several years ago John and I visited these local rock formations (about 20 minutes from our home), and we’ve been planning to take the kids ever since. Last Friday ended up being the perfect opportunity; the tide was perfectly aligned for an early evening/post-work adventure. We had the beach and formations to ourselves and the weather was ideal.

After exploring for a few hours we all came back to our place and heated up waffles (this recipe, always) and played JustOne.

And then I did laundry on Saturday morning, for obvious reasons.

I love this picture John captured of the kids. The beautiful formations + their candid smiles.

Below are two throwback pictures from the last time John and I visited; sadly the archway of the bottom formation has eroded in the last few years.

And that’s all from me. Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend – with nary a plumbing or banking debacle.

And here’s to a Friday that feels…like a Friday (not a Monday).

On Mother’s Day, An Ode to Letter Writing

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday.

I want to start by acknowledging we all have different stories to share. Some readers may be mourning the loss of a mother or friend, others processing a difficult parental relationship; some may be desperately wishing to become a mother while others are finding the very role of motherhood complicated and overwhelming. For anyone struggling, I’m sorry for your loss, hurt, frustration, or grief.

Today I’m sharing a piece of my story. This essay (or whatever one can call it) has been sitting – untouched – for several years, but I always wanted to share it on Mother’s Day. But where? With whom?

Now I have a space.

It’s long (shocking) and I’m aware it could use plenty of restructuring. But I tried to limit edits of the original draft because…well…it struck me when I pulled up this file – Mom writes long. Really long.

It’s a bit of a family joke how much I take after my mother. We look alike, sound alike, and think alike. We both have a tendency for “smoke to come out both ears” when we get worked up (translation: we’re stubborn and emotional). Apparently, I’m told, we even eat ice cream the same way.

But more than anything, I write like she writes.

The working title for this essay was An Ode to Letter Writing, but at the core sits A Letter To My Mother.

an ode to letter writing

One of my earliest memories is of Mom perched on the edge of a wooden chair – complete with forest green crocheted “footies” (to avoid scuffing our 1970s-era dining room linoleum) – in front of the Christmas tree.

I was about four, though this same scene was repeated for years, so I’m sure to be amalgamating memories. I always found a place on the floor by the tree; blonde hair, blue eyes, bubbling with the delight reserved for four-year-olds on Christmas morning. My father would have been there too, having made the concession of waking thirty minutes early to shave and get dressed. Two older sisters and a brother. And Mom, sitting on her chair, clipboard in one hand, a blue Bic ballpoint poised in the other.

Christmas Eve would have found her hunched over that same clipboard. Stockings stuffed – including toothpaste and soap for every member of the family (which, once unwrapped, would be back in the communal pile under the bathroom sink before the turkey was on the table) – and breakfast prepped in the refrigerator. Her world in order, Mom would sit, ruler in hand, preparing her grid. Recipient on the horizontal, giver on the vertical. This careful tracking was as traditional as the cinnamon coffee cake for breakfast, the scented Avon mistletoe figurine on the mantel, and the vintage star (with questionable wiring) glowing atop our tree.

And so Christmas found us – Dad smelling of aftershave, the coffee cake baking, Mom with her pen. One at a time gifts were unwrapped. This year, a stack of Nancy Drew books from Grammie, the one with a fiery temper who was continually offering unsolicited advice but was, nonetheless, recognized as a top-notch gift-giver. Next up, an alarm clock for my brother. A sweater for Mom. Some Licorice Allsorts for Dad.

Throughout the festivities there was, without exception, strict adherence to a single rule: before opening, admiring or using a gift you paused to announce the giver. And another block in that grid would fill up.

These were snapshots of our life and Mom was recording.

Before the ball dropped in Manhatten on New Year’s Eve, our local postal team carried away the results of Mom’s dutiful records. A thank-you to the opinionated grandmother (those Nancy Drew books sit on my daughter’s bookshelf today). A note of gratitude to my other grandmother, a soft-spoken woman whose cheerful smile (which she removed each night for a bath in Polident) belied the fact she was widowed by 35 with three small children. This year she had sent an elaborate tea set. My own children still use it, nibbling on chocolate chips and Cheerios piled on impossibly tiny plates, pouring Diet Pepsi out of the faded purple teapot. I wonder if Mom’s thank-you captured the generations of use ahead?

Another note for a wealthy aunt and uncle. The arrival of their Christmas parcel was a tradition itself – wrapped in brown paper and plastered with stickers, this was a gift that kept on giving. First, there was the anticipatory journey to our local post office, parcel notification in hand. Then the first glimpse of that giant box – bigger and heavier than a child dared hope. At home, Exacto knife in hand, the outer shell would be carefully removed to reveal a pile of boxes wrapped in beautiful wrapping paper. Double-sided tape, crisp corners, and lux ribbon were a given. Seeing those gifts under the tree was a perpetual delight and I always saved their gift for last.

The thank-you note for sisters Hazel and Marion (who always gifted Quality Street chocolates) would be hand-delivered at church on Sunday night.

Somehow, Mom managed to capture all the magic of that giving and receiving in her letters, maintaining relationships the way she knew best – through words and a $0.45 cent stamp.

My mother is an extraordinary woman. She raised four children, managed a household, worked part-time as a nurse until we were teenagers, and then launched a big career. She is a doer. She patiently led us through Bible-verse memorization for Sunday School, cooked every meal from scratch (with a little help from Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup), and created handmade Christmas gifts for decades. If you wanted something done, you asked my mother. Amidst the baked hams and scalloped potatoes, the cross-stitched mason jar toppers, the endless years of diapers – she wrote letters. Every two weeks, for decades, she wrote letters to my grandmothers. These recorded births, deaths, blizzards, new recipes, and the status of blooming peonies. They bridged gaps of time and distance as her own children grew and married. Miscarriages and stillbirths, cancer, surgeries. There was a lot of hard to share. But also awards, graduations, successes, new jobs, weddings, and the arrival of grandbabies. Often written in long-hand and spanning multiple pages, they were crafted at the dining-room table unless we were on summer vacation – then letters were written by the flickering light of kerosene lamps.

Perhaps most memorable to everyone were her Christmas cards (which were distinct from her Christmas thank-you notes; the holiday season warranted two letters from my mother). She devoted entire days to this activity.

As Mr. Zukerberg’s dorm room lay far in the future, this was her form of connection. She wrote to the bridesmaids from her wedding, classmates from nursing school, distant family members, friends old and new, and the church members we saw three times a week. In early November she would get out her tattered address book and work systematically from A to Z. American recipients were prioritized, since theirs took longer in the postal system and needed to be dispatched first. The cards weren’t ornate, always purchased on a post-Christmas sale the previous year. But the letters they contained were a work of art.

She told the same stories, recounted the same highlights over and over – but in a personalized way – all in her meticulous handwriting (only in recent years has she finally succumbed to the siren song of a more generic, typed Christmas letter). To the uncle who traveled for work, inquiries about destinations and hobbies; to someone whose loved one had passed, words of sympathy and hope. A few people responded in similar fashion but most, if we’re being honest, just attached their name to a generic greeting.

Yet my mother persisted. Year after year after year. Like spring follows winter, Mom’s letters were a constant; each one tinged with the beauty of recorded history. Her words gave meaning to our family story – a meaning that comes simply by sharing and connecting.

When I was 13 we moved. I likely wrote before this point, but here my recall starts. My letters, addressed with loopy adolescent handwriting, were filled with details of high-school drama. I sent these letters for years. I wasn’t looking for anything in return (and got few replies), which seems odd for a self-absorbed teenage mind – but even then I comprehended that the very act of writing was a gift of sorts. I shared my stories, my youth, and the world of possibilities in front of me, mostly for the benefit of elderly seniors (think: small Baptist church) and a few childhood friends I’d left behind.

Then one day I received an unexpected response.

I was in my final year of an undergraduate degree in Biology. The requisite hours spent dissecting pig fascia were behind me and I was doing a victory lap of sorts. Sitting alone in a summer rental, I opened a hand-addressed package. I didn’t recognize the sender information. The dull yellow of the mailer envelope was covered with black scuffs, paying homage to its journey.

But let’s back up and introduce a new character to my story.

Her name was Nina and she lived at the end of the road. When I say the end of the road, I mean that literally. The road that skirted my childhood home stretched up and down hills, twisted and turned, lurching precariously close to the side of a cliff face before it abruptly ended at the ocean. And there, nestled on the very edge of a cliff – near the very end of the road – was Nina’s house.

Nina was an artist, her husband a fisherman. The wharf from which he worked was at the bottom of that cliff. They attended our church, and I accompanied my Dad through years of visitation. Visits where Leroy, her husband, introduced me to his homemade pickled herring (an acquired taste, but a delicacy I loved) and showed me the jewelry he made from sea glass and stones tumbled in their basement.

Leroy died, Nina aged, and I moved away.

But I also stayed, I think, through my letters. I like to imagine those notes perched on Nina’s kitchen table, stuffed into her napkin holder. Or maybe my letters served as bookmarks in the novel on her bedside table. I wonder how she read them? I like to imagine she couldn’t wait. When she opened up her mailbox, did she smile? Did she save my letters for the end of the day, or tear open the envelope on the walk across the street? Did she laugh with me? Did she laugh at me? Hopefully both.

But Nina never wrote back. Not a single time in all those years.

Now back to that package. The letter was from Nina’s daughter, someone I don’t ever recall meeting, informing me that Nina had passed away. Nina, maker of homemade fish cakes (her home always smelled like fish, which wasn’t entirely pleasant). Nina, owner of the wood-paneled living room where I sat in a floral-patterned swivel chair and watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy because we didn’t have cable, but Nina did and she would sometimes invite me to stay for fishcakes with a side of Vanna White. Nina, who always set aside a special bag – (shhh: don’t tell anyone, it was a bigger bag) – of Halloween treats for me.

Nina the artist.

Her daughter wrote to tell me how much Nina had appreciated my letters. The letters that shared how my world was growing as Nina’s got smaller. That Nina was gone. The bulky envelope contained several of Nina’s paintings, watercolours she’d made in her little studio (also perched on the side of a cliff; she clearly didn’t have any issue with heights). Her daughter said she hoped the art would leave me with happy memories of Nina. Her art and my “art” bonding us across time and space.

And I do believe letter writing is art. Like sculpture and oil and lyric. The canvas – heavy paper, hotel stationery, Hallmark cards. The brush – a pen, pencil, crayon and, yes, even a keyboard. From the first tentative letters scribbled by a preschooler to the final, halting scrawl of an aging parent.

I’m not sure what place letter writing has in the modern era. In a world where our stories are told through the filter of Instagram or within the confines of 140 characters.

I send fewer letters in the mail now. Christmas cards, the occasional thank-you note. But each month I write and e-mail Family Updates – lost teeth, first bike rides (without the safety net of training wheels), potty-training successes (and failures), kindergarten concerts; the ups and downs of life have all made the cut. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, glimpses of our family’s life show up on screens down the street, across the country, and then ping-pong around the globe – Portugal, Denmark, America. I’ve saved every e-mail, full of details that would be hazy for me (newborn era, anyone?) and forgotten entirely by the kids, without this written history.

Julia Cameron talks about piecing together the story of her grandmother’s life simply by reading through her decades of letters in which she [the grandmother] recounted “a series of small miracles. [Her] secret lay in recognizing the quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is in the gift of paying attention.”

Letters help us pay attention. To celebrate more fully – find delight in the ordinary and share it with others; to grieve more deeply.

A few years ago my daughter performed in a local church play. A neighbor happened to be in the audience. The next day we came home to a plate of cookies from that neighbor – congratulating my daughter for her performance on stage (and Levi’s in the pew; he was shockingly well behaved for a then-toddler). Delighted by the cookies and the praise, my daughter picked out a thank-you card; a doughnut covered with sparkles that read “Thanks, with extra sprinkles!” I don’t know what she wrote, but I’m suspecting something along the lines of: “Thanks for the cookies. I liked them a lot.

It’s a start.

I watched her from the front window as she looked both ways and crossed the street in fading April light. She was in her pajamas already, a polar bear one-piece ensemble that should have been sent to the hand-me-down box months before. Delivery complete, she came home flush with accomplishment. There was silence for a few weeks and then a sudden appearance by the neighbor at our back door to express appreciation for her note. A beautiful cycle of thanks and connection and relationship, bridged with words.

You don’t get many hand-written notes these days,” said our neighbour, somewhat wistfully. “It’s really nice, you know.”

Actually, I do know. That’s why I write letters. That’s why Mom writes them, and why I hope my daughter writes them too. I can’t force her, of course. But I’ll keep writing mine and hope she writes hers. Maybe even to me.

Things come full circle, I suppose, and I now get a letter from my Mom every day. They aren’t handwritten, but they have Mom’s fingerprints all over them. She sends out hundreds of words (I told you I write like she writes) via our family text chain. Every day. My siblings and I know what wildlife she and Dad spotted through the front window over breakfast. What neighbours they passed on their afternoon walk, how her quilt is coming along, and what vegetables she’s planning to plant come June. We hear about blizzards and doctor’s appointments and art classes and, sometimes, the state of her laundry pile. Yesterday I learned all about her canoe trip down a local river; Dad, apparently, took a nap on the shoreline after their picnic lunch. I can’t remember, but I suspect she told us what had been on the menu. Egg salad sandwiches, perhaps?

It’s wonderful. Every word and description of her day makes me smile. Especially because I know This too shall pass.

This Mother’s Day, I’m so thankful for my mother. For everything she did, and does, for me. And for the deep impact of her written words over the years.

This letter, for lack of a better description, from me – well, it’s for her.

To my Mom, to Nina, to my daughter and all the other special women in my life – Happy Mother’s Day.

Header photo by Kate Macate on Unsplash

Destination Prince Edward Island: Part One

You might think the timing of this trip is directly related to my recent foray into all things Lucy Maud Montgomery…but you’d be mostly wrong.

Really, this reflects the sad truth that we live only three hours from a beautiful province and haven’t visited for A DECADE.

We have good excuses; we spend summer vacation time at my parent’s lakeside home in New Brunswick, which is delightful.

Also, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is a province utterly transformed in the summer; there are people everywhere. It’s hard – and expensive – to find accommodations. We also aren’t the type of family who enjoys spending half an hour searching for parking spaces at a crowded beach or amusement park. (I mean, does anyone enjoy that? I guess it would be more accurate to say we are the type of family that actively avoids crowded beaches and amusement parks.)

And, perhaps most importantly, we love exploring our home province of Nova Scotia (check out my Travel page for some highlights), which is stunning in the summer.

So, at the last minute, we decided to trek to PEI. The kids had a random Friday off school and we’re trying to be intentional about making the most of family adventuring while John is on sabbatical. And there is NO shortage of accommodations in the off-season (as busy as PEI gets in the summer, it is “dead” in the winter/spring).

And, yes, I’ll admit that reading the Anne books gave me a final nudge.

We only stayed on the island for one night. I’ll recap our adventures from Day One today and come back tomorrow with Day Two.

Day One

1. the drive

We hoped to be on the road by 7 am, but the kids were awake early enough that we were driving by 6:45 am. It’s always a great (and rare) feeling to be ahead of schedule.

I tasked Abby with making some PB&J sandwiches for the car, and the kids ate these for breakfast en route.

Side note regarding food for the trip. Between frugality and finding food stops to be very time-consuming, we prefer to travel with items from home. We packed some ham and cheese sandwiches for the day (and brought jars of PB&J + mini brioche buns to make more sandwiches if needed), hard-boiled eggs, apples, oat muffins, carrot sticks, and a big jug of water, so we didn’t stop to eat until supper time; on Day 2 we had breakfast included at the hotel and then just ate remaining picnic items the rest of the day).

The kids were absolute rockstars on this trip. They’re used to spending time in the car and seem to understand the delayed gratification necessary to enjoy adventures. I also think we’ve reached the ideal stage for this sort of thing: they’re old enough to be out of diapers and naps but young enough to get excited with simple activities.

The first hour of the drive we spent talking about…I can’t remember what?! Then the kids mostly just listened to audiobooks.


Levi, sadly, had fallen asleep in a very rare car nap and missed our bridge crossing. There isn’t much to see because the sides of the bridge are so high, but it is still an impressive and fun part of the trip.

The Confederation Bridge links PEI to the mainland of New Brunswick and is the world’s longest bridge that crosses ice-covered waters. At 12.9 km, it is a long bridge by any standard!

3. Cape egmont

Our first stop was Cape Egmont. The dirt road leading down to this lighthouse was treacherous (muddy and deeply rutted), but we made it in – and out – in one piece.

One of our family “things” is visiting lighthouses. We’ve gone to at least 60 now, and it’s a fun unifying theme for our vacations as we actively seek out new lighthouses wherever we go.

Of the 7 (!!) lighthouses discovered on this trip, we agreed this was the prettiest (it would be even nicer in the summer with green grass standing out in sharp relief to the red cliffs).


West Point is the “poster” child of lighthouses for the island. It actually has a (run-down) motel associated with the lighthouse, so you can book accommodations that attach to the lighthouse. It was pretty and tall, but we didn’t stick around too long and the beachfront was nothing spectacular.


When we left West Point Lighthouse, we drove by Cedar Dunes Provincial Park. The kids spotted playground equipment and we made an impromptu stop. I did a 1 km walk while they played, and then we grabbed lunch from our picnic bag before heading off to the northern tip of the island.

6. North Cape LIGHTHOUSE

While PEI is very small, it still felt like North Cape was a long trek into the middle of nowhere. It is the northernmost tip of the island and I was shocked by how windy it was; when we discovered the Wind Energy Institue of Canada is located on the premises, it made a lot of sense. (There were wind farms everywhere and they have giant turbine pieces on display for the public.)

North Cape is also home to the longest natural rock reef in North America (who knew?), extending almost two kilometers offshore from the cliffs. On a warmer day we might have explored the beach and looked for all the promised sea life, but the kids and I quickly admitted we were freezing and headed back to the car…where I realized my keys were in the trunk (not a good place for keys when a car is locked) and John was nowhere to be found.

I was feeling bummed. It was cold and windy. The lighthouse was rather industrial and run-down. And it had been a long drive. I called John to ask him to come to unlock the car and he said he’d be right back…but we might want to consider coming to see the rock formation he had discovered on the beach.

I convinced the kids to give this chilly cape one last shot and it ended up being one of those moments when waiting just a bit longer paid dividends. The rock formation ended up being one of my highlights from the trip!

This looks like a relatively boring access point to the beach and then BAM!

These pictures don’t do this space justice. The kids had a great time playing in the smaller caves and cutouts and there was a small cove/tiny beach on the other side of the formation that was protected from the wind. It was a hidden oasis I suspect few people visiting the area discover!

7. thunder cove

We love spelling things in the sand. Fun fact: sand writing factored into John’s marriage proposal!

Thunder Cove has one of the best spots for viewing the iconic red sandstone cliffs of PEI. We were warned in advance, though, to CHECK THE TIDES.

So…we CHECKED THE TIDES and opted to visit 4 hours after high tide. We walked down the beach to reach the most famous landmark – the Teacup formation. Unfortunately, we hit a roadblock in the form of some very cold water and an incomplete tide. The water was still too high to get around the bend to view the teacup formation. Whomp, whomp. So, a friendly word of advice: CHECK THE TIDES and then visit at the lowest tide possible!

We ended up finding an alternate route that left us quite muddy (note to self: allowing Abby to wear light blue jeans was a mistake), but the mess was worth it! Such a pretty formation.

8. New london lighthouse

The New London Lighthouse was probably my favourite lighthouse, largely due to nostalgia.

When I looked up filming locations from the Anne of Green Gables films, most spots were actually in Ontario (which is a bit of a letdown for movies featuring PEI). But one lighthouse scene was filmed on the island and happened to be smack dab in the middle of our return route to Charlottetown, so we made a quick stop.

Again, this would be nicer in the summer with tall green grass, but we tried to take a picture that highlighted the pop-culture significance of the location and I would definitely consider coming back here for a longer visit on a warmer day as it was a lovely spot (complete with a staircase that led to nowhere, which the kids thought was hilarious).

9. lucy maud Montgomery’s birthplace

Our final stop for the day was Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace, which we happened upon by accident. John saw a sign out of the corner of his eye, and we made a hasty turn into the empty (everything. is. empty. in. the. offseason!) parking lot so I could take a look around.

And here, around a certain corner, is a certain small, yellowish-brown house, close to the road, that I always look at with a kind of fascination, for it is the house where my father and mother lived after their marriage, and where I was born and spent the first year of my life. The years have passed on and each succeeding one has left the little brown house something shabbier than before, but its enchantment has never faded in my eyes. I always look for it with the same eager interest when I turn the corner.

L. M. Montgomery’s Journal, December 31, 1898

It’s no longer brown but reading her quote on the placard gave me goosebumps!

10. Charlottetown

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used Gretchen Rubin’s line about: The things that go wrong often make the best memories and I got another chance during this trip.

We were tired after a long day and when we confidently pulled up to the front entrance of our hotel, you could practically hear angels singing. Come to find out we were trying to check in to the WRONG hotel. There were two hotels with the same name in Charlottetown, which I didn’t realize when I keyed our destination into the GPS. It ended up costing us about 20 minutes and I was very grumpy about my mistake.

But, sometimes the things that go wrong do make good memories and the kids seem to think it’s both thrilling and hilarious that I made this mistake and it has become part of our family story about the trip.

Once we got settled at the right hotel, we headed to the pool – the waterslide was 105 ft long and very fast and very fun.

We found a local restaurant and ate a quick supper and were back to the hotel around 8:00 pm for some snacks in bed (which we brought from home) and a few more episodes of Race Against the Tide.

Just for kicks, I thought I’d show you my screentime report from this Friday! Between taking photos, Googling everything, and using the GPS (how did people travel before GPS and Google?)…well, there were a lot of screens.

And that’s a wrap on Day One. I know there many loyal Anne of Green Gables fans out there, but I feel like PEI is an obscure travel destination – has anyone reading here ever visited PEI?